Scholarly article on topic 'Revolution and Eternity'

Revolution and Eternity Academic research paper on "Law"

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Academic research paper on topic "Revolution and Eternity"


FASCISM 3 (2014) 47-52



Conference Report

Revolution and Eternity

Fascism's Temporality

Villa Vigoni (Loveno diMenaggio), Italy, 15-17 March 2013

Steffen Henne Philipps-University of Marburg steffen.henne@uni-marburg. de


The conference 'Revolution and Eternity - Fascism's Temporality' discussed the complex and meta-historical topic of 'time and temporality' with regards to the fascist experience of time, and ways of temporal thinking and acting with reference to German National Socialism, and fascism in Italy and Romania. The various papers examined specific national forms of fascism from the perspective of the concepts of political order and temporality (e.g. fascist interpretations of temporal dimensions - future, present and past). The conference revealed that the fascist view of time was based on specific (chrono)political practices (archaeology, filmmaking etc.) and that the inhumane politics of fascism were embedded in temporal paradigms that combined contradictory ideas of revolutionary acceleration with the eternal standstill of time.


fascism - temporality - chronopolitics - temporal acceleration - radical revolution - conferences

© STEFFEN HENNE, 2014 | DOI 10.1163/22116257-00301003

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-NC 3.0) License.

Among historians of fascism, the issue of 'time and temporality' is of growing interest. From 15 to 17 March 2013, a conference titled 'Revolution and Eternity - Fascism's Temporality' was held in the German-Italian Centre Villa Vigoni in Loveno di Menaggio. Its aim was to examine this abstract and meta-historical topic more closely. The attendees discussed fascist forms of the temporal experience, ways of thinking and acting with reference to the 'concrete' examples of German National Socialism, and fascism in Italy and Romania.

During their introductory presentation, the organizers Fernando esposito (University of Tübingen) and sven reichardt (University of Constance) outlined the purpose of the conference: to examine the similarities between the specific national forms of fascism from the perspective of the concepts of political order and temporality. In doing so, the fascist interpretations of the three dimensions of time - future, present and past - become as interesting as the fascist view of history itself. A particular aim of the organizers was to reveal the fascist view of time based on specific (chrono)political practices. In order to do this, the subject matter had to be seen against the backdrop of the patterns of experience of the nineteenth century: fascist chronopolitics were expressed in contrast to basic liberal values and radically rejected previously held temporal expectations such as the hope offered by progress and an optimistic view of the future.

In this respect, it is clear that the influence/impact of the First World War should not be underestimated. This led to dramatic shifts in the temporal coordinates of political thinking and action. After the First World War, an acutely pessimistic view of the future was combined with a radical, revolutionary-actionist Gestaltungsoptimismus [creative optimism] which aimed to implement visions of a different society and of a 'New Man'. Against this backdrop the themes of 'Revolution' and 'Eternity' developed into the two central topoi of fascist temporality. The very paradoxical relationship between these two motives was a central topic at the conference. While the idea of revolution implied radical change, the destruction of a negatively viewed past and the overcoming of a crisis-plagued present, the aspiration to achieve a different, reshaped future rested on a belief in the restorability of the eternal and the renewability of mythical origins (for example the enduring values of the nation or the Volk). In the view of the organizers, this paradox in fascist temporality expresses the metaphor of the rasenden Stillstands [racing standstill]. In its radical-revolutionary form, fascism attempted to accelerate time to a speed at which it would come to a standstill. Time is viewed as profane and should be literally blown to pieces to enable the transition into a sacred and mythical era.

In this way, renewal, violence and destruction became entangled with utopian-eschatological visions of eternity.

The first part of the conference dealt with some chronopolitical aspects of National Socialism. In his presentation, peter fritzsche (University of Illinois) showed how National Socialism commanded the full semantic range of modern temporality and made political use of this. In Fritzsche's view, the chronopolitical rhetoric of the National Socialists was aimed at presenting the German nation as the spearhead of progress, while discrediting political opponents as anachronistic and obsolete. The effect of the strategy was that it forced the opposition to justify themselves and define their position in terms of time. For example, against the backdrop of the progress of the war in the summer of 1940, Switzerland felt obliged to acknowledge the apparently unavoidable dynamics of the 'New Age' initiated by the Third Reich and even adjust to them. Impressed by German superiority, Switzerland became increasingly oriented towards Nazi Germany. It was as if the Swiss clocks had, metaphorically speaking, become increasingly set to German time.

fabian link (University of Frankfurt am Main) went on to investigate the National Socialist view of time on the basis of the Ludwig Siebert Programm (named after the Bavarian Prime Minister). This program was set up shortly after the Nazi party seized power. It concerned itself with the 'creative preservation of heritage' with regard to the cultural assets of Bavaria and the Palatinate. Link's thesis is that the program can be viewed as a practical chronopolitical measure, which was typical of the National Socialist self-image in its paradoxical temporality. For example, Siebert's anti-historical cultural policies identified medieval monuments as embodiments of the 'eternal values' of the German people. This program mobilized residents of Bavaria and the Palatinate by presenting a timeless Heimat as an object of cultural identification and, in so doing, integrated it into the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft [people's community]. In this way, the program combined the image of an eternal culture on the one hand, and a mobilizing acceleration on the other. Acceleration and eternity became one in a historical-touristic collective experience of the Tatgemeinschaft [action community].

The second part of the conference focused on the temporal aspects of Italian Fascism. In his lecture, claudio fogu (University of Santa Barbara) discussed the connection between historical ideas of the view of history inherent to Fascism and the end of historical consciousness. Fogu noted that, in contrast to liberalism, Fascism had a fundamentally different way of thinking about history and an unconventional interpretation of historical events. According to Mussolini, liberalism only records history, while Fascism creates history.

In the next presentation, JOSHUA Arthurs (West Virginia University) presented archaeology as a chronopolitical practice in Fascist Rome (see articles in this issue). This aimed to resurrect the romanita, the cultic veneration of Ancient Rome. Arthurs sees the veneration of the 'eternal city' not so much as the expression of a Fascist desire for a golden age, but rather as a revolutionary gesture based on the modern desire of the regime to found a 'New Italy'. The Fascists did not simply want to restore the idea of Rome; they wanted to dramatically renew the idea through 'excavatory intervention'. Various archaeological and urban renewal projects, in particular the restoration of ancient sites, aimed to achieve an architectural purification of the city. The purpose of these measures was not only to achieve aesthetic hygiene but also the moral hygiene of society.

ruth ben-ghiat (New York University) concluded this part of the conference with a presentation about fascist films as a chronopolitical technique. Her thesis is that, within the context of the Italian conquest of Ethiopia in 1935/36, film became increasingly viewed as a technical medium that could be used to accelerate history and mobilized to achieve a permanent revolution. In particular, documentaries were used not only as a method of documenting war but also as an instrument in actually waging war. Cameras took pictures with the speed of projectiles and made audiences feel that they were part of the events of history in real time. The slow-motion sequences of aerial bombing were a particular stylistic tool. They suggested the feeling of time standing still as being a possible space for active historical intervention.

The third part opened comparative perspectives of the image of the Axis powers. daniel hedinger (University of Munich) presented the phenomenon of Blitzkrieg as an element of fascist chronopolitics. He presented the hypothesis that the almost mystically exaggerated idea of Blitzkrieg had played a central role in the global formation of the Axis powers. In terms of self-image, the idea of Blitzkrieg helped the German Reich, Italy and Japan to understand what made them different from others and find a common line with regard to war politics by acting as instance of translation. In Japan, the idea of Blitzkrieg played a decisive role in the planning of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In turn, the surprise attack by the Japanese created the image in the United States that Blitzkrieg was a specific characteristic of how the Axis powers waged war.

In a more abstract meta-historical approach to the theme of this part of the conference, ROGER griffin (Oxford Brookes University) discussed the temporal order of the modern world as the origin of fascist temporality. Griffin referred to various theoretical approaches to the modern order, including Hannah Arendt, Reinhart Koselleck and Zygmunt Bauman, who described a

fragmentation of reality and a 'liquefaction' of space and time. Griffin described the Neuzeit [modernity] as a constant stream that is continually reinventing itself. In connection with the analogy of a 'river of time' in the sense of flowing, liquid mass, Griffin proposed the concept of 'extruable time' (in industry, 'extrusion' means the shaping of viscous materials that can be hardened, such as plastic). Against this background, fascism should be seen as an ideology that saw itself as changing the flow of time, shaping time and leaving its stamp on the future course of time. According to Griffin, at the core of this shaping of time is the nexus of the ideas of palingenesis (rebirth) and eternity that transforms the fabric of old myths into new attire. Accordingly, the core of the fascist program can be observed in the mythical reshaping of a national sense of history, which formed the foundations of populist ultra-nationalism.

The fourth and final part of the conference provided a second comparative perspective focusing on the Iron Guard (or Legionary Movement) of Romanian fascism. Valentin sandulescu (University of Bucharest) investigated the intellectual foundations of the Iron Guard during the interwar period. As in other countries, fascism in Romania exerted a strong attraction on young intellectuals. As a project that saw itself to be a force for national renewal, it seemed to offer a way out of the temporal crisis that was felt to be a crisis between generations that had led to social tensions since the student movement of 1922. Against this background, the Iron Guard was able to win over intellectuals in particular from circles near to the magazine Axa. These intellectuals not only joined the fascist movement but, as a think tank, influenced its further development. Looking at the same period, raul cArstocea (University College London) emphasized the significance of this mythical idea for the Legionary Movement. The vision of an eternal nation also represented a central motif in Romanian fascism and was also connected to the project of accelerating the present towards a future that needed to be realized. Carstocea named the influential philosopher and theologian Mircea Eliade, who sympathized with the Iron Guard from 1937 as a prominent thinker behind the idea of a mythical time. Eliade had developed the idea of a mythical 'sacred time', whose higher meaning seemed to point to a way out from the meaningless 'terror of history'. This transcendental-religious view of the order of time corresponded to a large degree with the view of history held by the Iron Guard.

During the lively concluding discussion, the participants agreed that the concepts of 'Revolution' and 'Eternity' were useful as analytical categories for the examination of the fascist temporal order. However, the question of how theoretical assumptions regarding the theme of 'time and temporality' can be tested empirically and methodically remained open to debate. The perspective of media history was mentioned as a potentially fruitful approach, which

would examine the social-cultural acts of communication and their material specificity. Historical situation analyses might also offer a methodical approach. martin baumeister (German Historical Institute in Rome) also made a case for a praxeology of fascism, which could examine politically and ideologically loaded practices. In this regard, Fritzsche emphasized that research into fascism meant not only describing the mechanisms of social exclusion, but also the practices of social inclusion. While doing so, the study of history should never lose sight of the perspectives of the victims of fascism. In the end, fascism always meant destruction and 'manufacture of death' (Fritzsche). The various presentations at the conference showed dramatically how the inhumane politics of fascism were always embedded in temporal paradigms which paradoxically combined ideas of acceleration with those of standstill.